Brian Phillips on Steph Curry (via Grantland)

You should read Brian Phillips on Stephen Curry’s improbable rise and rise and rise. If you don’t, at least read this excerpt:

It’s been a revelation. In college, part of what made his game a delight was that it looked so approachable. He wasn’t too fast to track or so high above the rim that he seemed superhuman; he was a regular-ish kid who kept sinking shots in colossal moments. Now? Maybe there are advanced stats to track this, but to me he looks like he’s playing in a different rhythm from anyone else on the floor. He still sees those tiny fissures in the defense, but now he anticipates them and knows how to make them wider. He has a whole magazine of little steps and turns and flutters now, moves that don’t require phenomenal athleticism so much as nerve and a killer sense of timing. (After the Warriors’ Game 2 playoff win over the Pelicans this week, someone described him as “Kawhi Leonard with ADD,” which I love.) He’s not exactly accessible, but somehow he’s even more himself — one foot on the mortal earth and one in the ether, a demigod hanging with Olympians.

Sometimes the contrast shows. On Thursday night, for most of Game 3 against New Orleans, Curry looked flat, almost normal; it was Anthony Davis, the Pelicans’ young power forward, a player so in the mode of the deity-ideal that he might have sprung from the forehead of basketball itself, who dominated, leading New Orleans to a 20-point fourth-quarter lead. But the Warriors kept inching back. With 11.2 seconds left, Curry pump-faked past a flying Jrue Holiday and drilled a 3 to cut the lead to two. With six seconds left and Golden State now trailing by three, Curry missed what he thought was a game-tying shot (in fact his foot was on the line). Marreese Speights got the offensive rebound and kicked the ball out to Curry in the left corner. Four seconds left, tenths vanishing. One of those moments when you can hear your own heartbeat. Two Pelicans, including Davis, converged on him, crashing into him and into each other; a split second before they knocked him to the ground, he got off a shot.

And you knew. Hindsight can be kind of a bully in sports, and it’s easy to remember certainty when all you really experienced was a kind of limbic panic. But this was Steph Curry in 2015, taking a last-second shot at the end of an astonishing comeback; maybe you didn’t understand what was happening, maybe you couldn’t quite believe it, but while the ball was in the air, you knew. The ball flew way, way up, and then, as Curry lay under Davis, it dropped through the net. Tie game. Overtime. For most of 48 minutes, Curry had not been Anthony Davis; then, for a couple of seconds at the end, he was Stephen Curry. That was enough. He opened overtime with another 3-pointer. Golden State won the game, 123-119, and took a 3-0 lead in the series. It was hard, afterward, to say exactly what had happened, except that Steph was playing, so it kind of made sense.

If he wins the MVP, and I think he should, then that quality, the special joy of watching him, should certainly inform the decision. James Harden has been monstrously effective and Chris Paul is a rock, but whom would you rather see? Who makes you feel something? Why shouldn’t that count, when you’re talking about players on the highest level of a spectator sport? In 20 years, no one’s heart is going to beat faster remembering how efficiently Harden got to the free throw line. You’re going to remember what it was like to see Curry pop into open space and catch the ball, the feeling of possibility that accompanied that moment. You’re going to remember watching the ball rise toward the basket. You’re going to remember how it hung at the top of its arc, and how you already knew what would happen, and how you couldn’t look away.

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Jahlil Okafor’s Story (via Terrance Noland’s Chicago Magazine profile from January 2014)

This is too good not to share. From Terrance Noland’s piece “Jahlil Okafor Is On His Way Up,” printed in Chicago MagazineJanuary 2014

An excerpt explaining Jahlil’s pre-game ritual and the influence of his father, Chucky:

If you watch Jahlil right before a game, you will see his mouth moving. He’s not singing the words to the national anthem. He’s not talking to himself. He’s whispering to his mother. “I’ll just tell her, ‘Let’s go, Mom. I’m ready.’ I think of her as my wings on the court, my extra step.”

Through basketball, he has found a way to grieve. “I think it’s his escape,” says his aunt Chinyere, the principal at Jensen Miller Scholastic Academy on Chicago’s West Side. “I think it lets him focus on something else for a while. I know it does. We’ve talked about it.”

Chucky says, “He will never be OK. I told him that the day his mom died: ‘You will never get over this. So that’s not something you need to try to do.’ ”

I ask Chucky if losing his own mother better prepared him to help his son. He considers this for a long time before answering. “When I was at Chicago State, I took a psychology class, and I did a paper on the difference between a son being raised without his mom and a son raised without his pop. Like, I learned that the mom is really the emotional side, and that’s the first person the child goes to with secrets. So from that paper, I understood some things about myself, and that showed me I had to do some extra things in raising Jahlil.”

Such as?

“Being more communicative, being open with my emotions. And just always being very supportive. No matter what Jahlil did, not just sports, I was the same loud, obnoxious dad who is gonna come embarrass you.” He’s not exaggerating. In junior high, Jahlil was on the crew of a school musical, and when he came out during intermission to move a spotlight, Chucky stood and clapped wildly.

Jahlil Okafor as a toddler, with his sister, his father, Chucky, and his mother, Dee.

Jahlil Okafor as a toddler, with his sister, his father, Chucky, and his mother, Dee.

Here’s a link to the wonderful Terrance Noland profile.

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2015 Eastern Conference Playoff Impressions (First Round, Game 1)

The NBA Playoffs started. We’ve had 8 games. It’s way too early in each series to decide anything….but here are some impressions:

(1) Atlanta v (8) Brooklyn

Is there anyone outside of the borough of Brooklyn and the sad state of New Jersey that actually wants this Nets team to win? I guess Cavs, Bulls, Raptors and Wizards fans temporarily want Brooklyn to beat Atlanta. The Hawks are the only underdog 60-win team in playoff history. Not underdogs in this series, but not favored to win the East. Health remains key. Jeff Teague had a brutal game 1. Paul Millsap didn’t look quite right. Al Horford’s x-rays were negative. The Hawks would do well to win this in 4 and rest as TOR-WAS goes 6 or 7. Kyle Korver: 5 of 11 from deep.

(4) Toronto v (5) Washington

This series has as much to do with Kyle Lowry’s back and Nene’s knees as anything else. Paul Pierce got himself revved up with his own comments. Makes you wonder if that’s how it works when Pierce is with his lady. “Do you really want it? Are you sure you want it? You don’t seem like you want it? Should I go take the kids to the park instead?” Kyle Lowry needs a good deep-tissue massage and some shiatsu.

(3) Chicago v (6) Milwaukee

Derrick Rose is in attack mode and it has to be refreshing for Bulls fans. Anyone who is still complaining about not getting Russell Westbrook in the playoffs, just watch the Bulls-Bucks series. Before Westbrook’s furious rampaging to the hoop, it was Rose making the impossible mid-air contortions. The Bucks will be bounced quickly unless Jason Kidd decides to come out of retirement and hits about 6 corner threes per game. Michael Carter-Williams has a problem shooting.

(2) Cleveland v (7) Boston

After one quarter, the Celtics led Cleveland 31-27. With 9:24 remaining in the first half, Boston was somehow ahead 38-31. Then the Cavs got loose and started doing what they’ve been doing for the last two months. Hitting wide-open three-pointers, and letting Kyrie Irving loose.  LeBron’s penetration led to one triple each from J.R. Smith, Irving and the Artist Formerly Known As Kevin Love (AFKAKL). Kyrie finished the half with two ridiculous off-the-bounce stop-me-if-you-can three-pointers. Suddenly the Cavs finish the half up 62-54.

“Nobody said it was easy,” was the theme song to this loss for the Celtics.

Isaiah Thomas had a rough first half, but finished with a solid all-around game (22 pts, 10 ast, 5 reb and 5 turnovers). Kelly Olynyk was a spark off the bench early (12 pts on 7 shots and 2 blocks). Surprisingly, Brandon Bass was given the majority of the time on LeBron early, with Crowder playing more in semi-garbage time once the Celtics were down 15. At some point, Gigi Datome will make an appearance and shoot lots of threes. Stevens is probably saving him for Game 3 and the rabid home crowd.

All in all, the Celtics can take some solace in the fact that this was not a complete and utter devastation in Game 1. A few problems that aren’t going away for Boston: LeBron and Kyrie can get anywhere they want on the court and the Celtics have no rim protection. Cleveland offensive rebounding (15) vs Boston defensive rebounding (27) was a disaster. Tristan Thompson and Timofey Mozgov are large and determined. Celtics need Crowder and anyone else willing to fend off the Cleveland bigs. The problem, Cleveland spreads the floor so well, that the Celtics aren’t going to succeed on the rebounding front unless they can summon 2008 Kevin Garnett or 2010 Kendrick Perkins. Oh well. At least they got an invitation to the big dance.

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